In Australia and around the world, we are facing challenges due to economic unpredictability, changing climate and technological advances. In 2013, the Australian Department of Industry identified lifting productivity and economic growth as one of our most important challenges.

Within our built environment industry, there is a real need for defined industry standards for digital value and industry performance measures.

In 2014, the Australian Productivity Commission stated that “Benchmarking information in Australia is disappointingly limited, a deficiency which must be addressed in a future structure for infrastructure decision making as a whole.” Furthermore, it highlighted that a more widespread adoption of building information modelling (BIM) could enhance productivity across the built environment industry, and in turn could have a positive impact on the cost structure of infrastructure projects.

As our industry develops new ways of working, we need to develop new performance measures. There is a clear need for defined industry standards for digital value and measurement metrics, and this is particularly critical as we develop new industry standards and metrics for built environment asset management. While public domain performance data are also important, the industry’s reluctance to make this information public is a barrier to achieving a more economically and environmentally sustainable built environment.

In order to understand the real impact of implementing BIM or digital engineering, and improving the outcomes from these efforts, we need to develop and implement a strategy for monitoring and reviewing progress towards specific goals.

The key benefit of benchmarking is that it helps answer the question “is there a difference when something has been changed?” These differences can then be used to establish improvement targets and promote change. We need to consider internal benchmarks when relating to a single organisation, external benchmarks when referencing other organisations, and benchmarks that can be used at the project level within or across life cycle phases, at a regional or at a global level.

Although there have been significant benefits identified internationally from implementing BIM or digital engineering, there is little information on how to realise and monitor benefits from its implementation across the life-cycle of a built environment asset, be it infrastructure or building. There are also few current comprehensive methodologies where BIM strategies can identify what benefits can be achieved, how they are to be achieved and how progress towards goals can be monitored.

We also need to understand the benefits of new organisational approaches that incorporate new technology with new ways of working.

The value of BIM is realised through its benefits for different stakeholders. Benefits arise because BIM, like other information technologies, enables people to do things more efficiently as it shapes new ways of working and facilitates new practices. Management practices that include the use of innovative tools to track and monitor the management process are correlated with higher productivity, profitability and business growth.

BIM performance metrics enable teams and organisations to assess their own competencies and to benchmark their progress, and can be used as a basis for formal certification systems that facilitate the procurement process. Measuring BIM or digital engineering performance is important because the more advanced an organisation is in their use of BIM, the greater their ability to receive its benefits and to realise strong returns on investments.

Additionally, BIM value metrics can be used to measure organisational performance improvement across a number of fields. This can help justify investments made, compare and rank areas of return on investment and provide targets for success. They can also be used across life cycle phases to measure benefits of implementing BIM over the whole-of-life of built environment assets.

If we don’t set benchmarks, how can we evaluate benefits and success rates? With a tool such as BIM, it is important to measure its benefits and failures throughout the life cycle of the asset. This allows for a continuous improvement process, while documenting benefits that could help support effective adoption and implementation.

When implementing BIM, NATSPEC suggests selecting metrics and objectives during the planning phase to help facilitate progress monitoring and the assessment of the success or failure of implementing different tools and processes. Having access to industry standard metrics will help many organisations determine the basis for these future internal benchmarks that will in turn help with aligning benchmarking strategies with their value-adding networks.

We are challenged with establishing benchmarks that are simple enough, useful to stakeholders and that encompass the relevant dimensions required to quantify the issue being benchmarked.

Only with an industry supported measurement framework can we measure our performance against past practice and benchmark ourselves against others nationally and internationally. We can’t aspire to advancing ourselves unless we measure and know where we’re starting from.

It is becoming more and more critical that industry members agree upon a set of acceptable benchmarking tools if we are to improve productivity and economic growth.

This article was co-written with Adriana Sanchez, Research Associate, Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre (SBEnrc) headquartered at Curtin University, Perth